Obamas have a busy first week ahead as they arrive in D.C.

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 3, 2009 

WASHINGTON — The historic Hay-Adams hotel, the new First Family's their home through Jan. 15, offers the Obamas a posh and well-secured suite, White House views, 24-hour room service and probably not much free time to enjoy it.

For girls Malia and Sasha, Monday marks the start of classes at what for them will be a new school in a new city: Sidwell Friends, a Quaker private day school previously attended by Chelsea Clinton and other former first children.

"We’re delighted to have them and welcome them into the community," said Ellis Turner, associate head of school at Sidwell Friends.

Michelle Obama and her daughters checked in Saturday night and President-elect Barack Obama Sunday night.

He’s to meet Monday on Capitol Hill with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the Republican leaders of both chambers before the 111th Congress convenes.

On Wednesday, Obama’s invited to the White House for lunch with President Bush and the living ex-presidents, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, in the president’s private dining room off the Oval Office.

White House deputy press secretary Gordon Johndroe said Friday that the president and the president-elect "will not only have a chance to wave to each other, but have a chance to have a nice conversation and a good meal. I think that will be a very interesting and historic lunch."

Aides say Obama also is working on an economic recovery plan and preparing for his Jan. 20 inauguration.

School and inaugural preparations will consume Michelle Obama's schedule as well, and the family still has one more temporary move _ to Blair House, the official guest residence _ before they take up residence in the White House.

Turner, speaking for Sidwell, declined to discuss most details of the girls’ schooling including whether they will attend all classes on the first day. In Chicago, the girls attended the University of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools and their mother served on their board.

Sidwell's middle- and upper-school students study on its main campus in Northwest Washington, but grades pre-K through 4 are taught at a separate campus in Bethesda, Md. That means Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10, a fifth-grader, will likely study on separate campuses. Turner would not confirm those details.

He said that neither students and parents nor teachers and staff had been given guidance on interacting with the incoming first family.

"We don’t feel the need to offer advice to our teachers or parents in that regard," he said. "I think the community is dedicated to treating every student in the school in the same manner, and I think it comes naturally to our community."

James Zug, whose book "The Long Conversation" about Sidwell’s history was published earlier this year, said part of the Quaker philosophy at the school’s roots is to see each child as equal.

Since its founding in 1883, Zug said, several children or relatives of presidents and high-profile politicians attended the school. They included: a son of Teddy Roosevelt; Benjamin Harrison’s grandson; James Monroe’s great-grandson; Lincoln’s great-grandson and last surviving descendant; Herbert Hoover’s sons; and Richard Nixon’s daughters. Bobby Kennedy sent two sons for a while. Nancy Reagan also attended Sidwell.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden has grandchildren at the school.

About 1,100 students attend Sidwell, about evenly split between boys and girls. As of the start of the school year, 39 percent of the student body was "of color," including black, biracial or other races, according to the school’s Web site. Annual tuition is $28,442 through grade 4 and $29,442 for grades 5 through 12.

Sidwell was not the first of Washington’s private schools to integrate. That was Georgetown Day, founded in 1945 as an integrated school. Sidwell's integration began in 1956, starting with only the kindergarten class. Integration accelerated in the 1960s, Zug said, but it wasn't until 1967 that Sidwell graduated its first black student.

Zug said today the school’s black student union and parents of black students’ committee are very active.

Obama transition officials, reached Friday, declined to discuss the girls’ first day or school or to answer most questions about the move: Will Obama advisers also be staying at the Hay-Adams? Will transition meetings be held there? Are the Obamas staying in the Federal or Presidential Suite? What is the cost for their accommodations and who is paying for it?

The Hay-Adams sits just across Lafayette Square from the White House. The hotel's two best suites, the Federal and the Presidential, boast panoramic views of the park, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Both suites are one-bedroom, but they can be expanded to include adjoining rooms. The hotel has declined to answer any questions about the Obama’s stay, or even publicly acknowledge the Obamas will be guests there.

The hotel’s Web site says the Presidential suite is a penthouse suite with a gas-lit corner fireplace, while the Federal suite has its own meeting area and a French door balcony overlooking the White House. The most expensive suite listed on its Web site’s reservations page goes for a daily rate of $3,200 this time of year, but it is not identified by name.

Rob Volmer, whose public relations firm represents the hotel, said it's hotel policy to maintain guests' privacy. In general, "Everyone gets special handling," he added, especially from hotel staff "knowing what their likes and dislikes are" in terms of food and other services.

"Nothing is overlooked but the White House,’ that’s their claim," Volmer said. "It's very meticulous service."

Obama apparently will have to go off-campus for his daily gym workouts, however; Volmer said the hotel does not have its own but rather has agreements with off-site gyms.

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY Economy tops everyone's agenda as Congress returns

More news of shoes, but we don't know who threw these

Israeli missile hits target, but what was it?

Check out McClatchy’s expanded politics coverage

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service